I stood at the alter with her holding her beautiful bouquet. She was getting remarried, and I was so happy for her. I know how hard the last few years had been. She was finally OK; we were both finally OK. I was the maid of honor in my stepmother’s wedding that beautiful October night.
My father passed away when I was just 22. My stepmother and I were with him that tragic night, holding his hand as he took his last breath—holding each other, devastated and lost in our profound grief.
From the moment I first met my stepmother, we had an instant, beautiful bond. While nothing will ever be like my connection to my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, my stepmother was a very close second. Growing up she was always the other dominant woman in my life. We had a never-ending, playful joke that she was my ESM (Evil Step Mom) because she was actually the total opposite. She loved me, she took care of me, and she was there for me throughout so much of my life.
We shared so many adventures and memories throughout the years, but sadly, those memories are now all that is left from our relationship. She disowned me several years ago, breaking my heart and leaving a permanent scar. Through a series of painful and serious incidents that occurred when my former fiancé, who had been working for her husband, had a major falling out with him, my relationship with my stepmother fell apart, and she totally shut me out of her life. It has been seven years since I heard from her.
Losing a loved one from your life is always painful, but when it is someone who chose, willingly, to leave your life, it cuts even deeper. When you are separated from someone by death, as incredibly painful as that is, it is not personal. They didn’t choose to leave you; they had no control over it. When someone leaves by choice, the rejection is excruciating. There is a lot spoken these days about ghosting or being disowned from a biological parent, but far less is mentioned on the loss or separation from a stepparent.
Many people, while not intending to be insensitive, still thought that because they were a stepparent, it couldn’t possibly hurt as much. But the pain that comes from losing a loved one does not distinguish biological loved ones from those who have become just as important to us as our stepparents. For many of us who have grown up with our stepparents being an integral part of our lives, their influence on who we are is just as strong as that of our mothers and fathers. And whether this disconnection comes from being disowned or being separated from a stepparent after a divorce, the loss is just as profound as that of a biological family member.
Healing from this type of disconnection, regardless of the circumstances, takes an incredible amount of time. If the separation comes suddenly and unexpectedly, it can feel similar to mourning the death of a loved one who has suddenly passed away. In the beginning I used to frantically check my email, convinced that day was the day she would call or reach out to me. I would see things that reminded me of her, almost pick up the phone to tell her something, but then stop myself. Eventually the reality that she is never coming back sunk in. Many times, with this type of loss, it is as if you are going through all of the natural stages of grief—the shock, denial and anger. The tremendous anger. Then, finally, acceptance.
Sometimes there is simply no way to find all of the answers, closure or the proper goodbye that you crave with this type of loss, and the people who we thought would be constant staples in our lives, those who were supposed to be unconditionally ours, leave us in a way we never expected.
As for my stepmother, my “ESM,” I am still heartbroken over what happened, and I know, as hard as I try not to, somewhere in my heart I still hold out some form of hope. I am not hoping for a reconciliation, but just that one day I may get a real goodbye, that one day she may tell me that despite what happened, she never stopped loving me.